The last part about our trip to Iran, the last and the longest one. About the food, places of interest and some remarkable facts about Iran and Iranians.
…is tasty, yes. The best thing, as trivially it would sound, is kebab. In different variations. Fish kebab is delicious, all other sorts (lamb, veal, chicken) are yummy as well. You should just step by step try everything they have in their kebab assortment. Prices vary from 10 Euro for one kebab in a fancy restaurant to 10 Euro for a three-course menu in an old traditional restaurant. Traditional restaurants are called sofre khane. In the oldest ones only one type of meal is served. Out of three courses we liked deep-green colored Koo Koo Sabzi (parsley, dill, coriander, wild garlic, eggs) most of all.
It would be better if you target a place to eat in advance: people on the streets if you ask for a sofre khane Kebab is usually served with flat bread or with rice. Rice is colored with saffron and decorated with barberries. It could be a bit dry, but the taste and juiciness of the kebab compensates it. To drink take salty yoghurt with mint. This drink that is very similar to ajran is a perfect match for a kebab. Another great option is a pomegranate fresh. You can buy it on the streets for about 1 Euro (the best variant if you let it be squeezed in front of your eyes, otherwise juice from a jar can be a bit old). Remember, all prices on the streets are written in Farsi, so learn the numbers in advance.
A very nice experience is buying bread on the streets from the bakery. Usually they bake single type of bread and there is line of local people in front of it who buy bread in impressive quantities (probably, for a big family or for a restaurant). Freshly baked bread is divine: crispy, fragrant, yummy. Couple of times we skipped or significantly delayed a real meal because of This Bread. No complaints.
Fast food restaurants are very cheep, the food there is tasty and the portions are huge. Just choose the one where kebabs and not hamburgers are served. An advantage of a fast food restaurant is that all meal options are depicted in a menu or on a wall and you can see an univocal price next to the photo. Try the soup of a day. We have eaten several times in fast food and each time I’ve finished my soup with pleasure. What is important, the quality of the food is very good as well. During 8 days we didn’t have any problems with the stomach, though we tried almost everything we wanted.
A traditional Iranian breakfast we got in every hotel and at home of our friends is a hard boiled egg, lavash (flat bread), butter, jam and fresh cheese plus tea/ coffee, milk and optionally orange juice.
To tea you will get a stick of crystallized sugar. This is two-in-one indeed, you get sweetness in your tea and have something to stir at hand. Tea, as expected, is delicious. Remarkable nuance: black tea tastes so much better when you drink it out of a tiny transparent glass.
A restaurant that I would recommend (and that was recommended by our Iranian friends) is called Koohpaya Restaurant and is situated in Darband. To order: Akbar Jooje (chicken with pomegranate sause), Mirza Ghasemi (eggplant paste that goes very good as a starter) and dough (ayran with mint). The place looks very fancy, lounge music, but the prices are surprisingly very fair. In Koohpaya they have flags of every country of the world, so we got five: Iran, Germany, Russia, Sri-Lanka and Thailand.
Places of interest
Iran can impress and surprise. Iran can be different. A wide range of cultural and historical development to observe and experience, from ancient ruins in Persepolis to modern metropolis Tehran. Affluent, authentic culture, rich past and perspective future (when the sanctions will be completely abolished). What I think is most important is that Iranians manage to keep and preserve their historic monuments, buildings and spots. I will write about several highlights and will start from the South to the North of Iran: Shiraz – Esfahan – Kashan – Tehran.
- The Holy Shrine of Shah-e Cheragh
Definitely, one of the best highlights of the Shiraz city. A very old, splendid mosque with a beautiful inner territory. Besides, great free touristic service is provided: we were greeted on the entrance and accompanied all around the mosque and the surrounding area. In conclusion – a minute of tranquility in the foreign affairs office and a cup of tea. In fact, we could not avoid our escort, we were followed from the entrance to the exit that made us think that probably this was a way to guarantee that tourists don’t erroneously enter prohibited areas or behave inappropriately. Inside the mosque the wall and selling covering are assembled from tiny mirror mosaic, therefore everything sparkles and glows.
An absolutely Must See spot. It takes about one hour to reach it and a taxi costs about 22-25 Euro for a round trip and couple of hours waiting. On the road we stopped to see two other places, but you can easily skip them and spend more time in Persepolis. The size and scale of this ancient abandoned city impress. As well as quality of the buildings walls: the faces of people and mystic creatures are kept in their best shape.
- Another spot worth a visit is Vakil mosque right next to the main entrance to the city market.
- The market itself is exciting: colorful wares, carpets, various spices and sweets.
Main sights are concentrated on the Naghsh-i Jahan Square: Shah Mosque, Ali Qapu Palace, Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque and main entrance to the Grand Bazaar.
Take a walk in the city. All houses are colored in pale-beige and belong to the same style. Some of them are completely destroyed, though it is clear that before they were luxurious houses with a fountain and a courtyard. Worth to see the Agha Bozorg Mosque and its “sunken” courtyard. The gem of Kashan is its traditional houses kept in their original state (or thorough renovated). Some of them only for a visit, other could be stayed in for a night.
- Milad Tower
Another name for the sixth tallest tower in the world is Tehran Tower. Its height is 435 m. The tower is turned to a shopping and entertainment complex. It depends on the weather how many observation platforms will be open. The day we were there was extremely windy (so windy, that I was thinking I would fly away), and only one platform was open. The view from the observation point is indeed amazing and absolutely worth going on the top. Don’t worry, you don’t have to climb stairs – there are enough elevators. Disadvantages are price (it is quite high for Iranian scale) and the location is an obstacle – you can not reach the tower with public transport. To leave the place you have to wait in a line for a taxi. The good thing is, they tell you the exact price straight on.
- Azadi Tower
Literally, the Tower of Liberty, is a modern building in the west part of Tehran, very far from the city center but close to the Mehrabad international Airport from where national flights start. We flew to Shiraz from this airport and Azadi Tower was direct on our way. Otherwise this place is not so spectacular and is currently partly under construction.
- Golestan Palace
The oldest building in Tehran is called “Palace of flowers”. I’m sure, it looks so much better in spring and summer, when its gardens are full of blossoming flowers and sparkling fountains.
- Tabiat Bridge
A very nice place to go in Tehran is a café under the Café under the Nature Bridge in Tehran. The bridge itself is lighting with different colors and has a bizarre shape.
- A trip to Darband
To reach Darband you have to take the red metro line. The station you need is the last on the line and is called Tajrisch. Next to the station a Tajrisch bazar and Sadabad palace are situated.
From Tajrisch a shared taxi to Darband costs about 3 000 Toman pP (75 Cent). In Darband there is nice cable car road, but when we were there it was closed because of the weather. We walked as long as we could and as it was sensible: it was snowing and the path was wet and slippery. On the road we got to know a very nice couple from Australia and took this “walk” together. On the reasonable altitude we stopped in a shisha café, smoke, drank tea and told stories. A noticeable and a little bit sad thing was that on our way there were no ordinary road for a car, but the street was full of restaurants and small shops selling candied fruit. The supplies were delivered there exclusively on donkeys which didn’t look so happy and taken care of.
Remarkable facts about Iran and Iranians
- Extreme hospitality. Iranians are very hospitable, sometimes to an overwhelming extend. We had an experience when an elderly couple, a former colleague of our friends and his wife, gave up us their bed and slept on the floor in the living room (we discovered this later, otherwise we would not have had accepted it). Not to let them sleep the second night on the floor, we found out thousands of excuses and moved to a loose hotel only not to feel bound. Explanation and parting was extremely troublesome as they don’t speak English and we – Farsi. They wanted us to stay, we wanted to leave. Fifteen perplexing minutes and we were free. I hope, we didn’t offend them. Very pity, indeed, that we didn’t have a mutual language to talk, this could be a very nice getting-to-know-you-and-your-traditions-conversation.
- Another remarkable peculiarity is generosity toward the tourists. Once when we were going to buy bread from the street bakery, a random man from the queue presented us one with other words “Welcome in Iran”. Another episode happened on the market in Kashan: we have seen a very elderly grandpa selling vegetable. At that moment, I had irresistible appetite for carrots. We picked several and were about to pay – but the merchant didn’t allow us to do so. We protested, but he insisted and said something that intended to sound “Welcome in Iran”.
- When entering a mosque you should leave you shoes in a special compartment at the entrance or take them with you in a plastic bag. It applies to both men and women.
- The administrative staff at mosques has special fluffy “dust sticks”. The reason for it that men are not allowed to touch a woman with a hand. If a women has to be talked to, they are slightly touched with these sticks.
- If you spend a whole day outside, take some toilet paper with you. Very often in public toilets they don’t have any. And these toilets are squat toilets, but I’ve already written about it.
- If you order a tea, be prepared that you will get a special crystallized sugar stick instead of “normal” sugar. If you stir it completely, the tea will be mawkish sweet.
- The air is Tehran is so polluted that you often meet people who wear facial protective masks. You literally feel the pollution, by the way. You throat get sore and your nose blocked.
- In big cities you will meet a lot of soldiers on the streets. Just a remark. Soem of them smoke shisha. Another remark.
- We were wondering, if alcohol is prohibited by law and girls are not allowed to open more body than it would be interpreted as modest, what do the rebellion teenagers do? We had a chance to go out with a group of young boys 18-22 one evening. The answer we got was: boys meet in front of a certain coffee shop, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes (sometimes not only) and cruise on their cars all around the city What do the girls do? According to the boys, they practice make-up in the evening. Exciting, isn’t it?
- When you take a taxi, make sure that you agree on a price before you get in the car. Otherwise, you will be talking the whole trip with a friend of the driver who speaks English (the driver himself doesn’t) and clarifying the price.
- Prices for an entry to a museum or a historic place differ for tourists and Iranians. The usual price is 200 000 Rials (5 Euro) and 30 000 Rials (75 Cent) respectively. This contradicts the statement in the Lonely Planet guide that the prices are the same for all visitors.
- A great thing is that the city markets are for locals and not for tourists only as in many other countries (exception – Esfahan). Therefore, the prices are acceptable and the atmosphere is authentic.
- We have not seen almost any women working on a bazaar, but many women shopping there.
- On bazaars, plenty of glittering gold is sold. Sometimes you can’t even look at the display windows.
- Date fruit are the most delicious dates I’ve ever tried.
- Bargain and negotiate. The price called first is usually higher than the real one.
- Iranians work a lot: 5,5 working days a week. They start on Saturday and finish on Thursday at noon.
- You meet people begging for money on the streets, even children. Once one of guy greeted us cheerfully, talking in Farsi and… kissed our hands. And asked for money afterwards. Weird feeling, very weird feeling.
- Shisha places are usually for men only. Women are just not allowed. And I mean it. Once by mistake I tried to enter one very attractively looking café but was stopped by one of the visitors. Curious, isn’t it? However, we found one where one shisha place that has two rooms: only for men and for couples or groups of mixed gender. This place looked very nice, with a lot of old lamps of different shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited. Probably, because such places are party kept in secret and are deemed half-illegal, as young men and women can come there, talk between four eyes, smoke hookah using one shisha nozzle, basically, flirt. I liked this place a lot, that is why I will not name the address here. If it happens that you fly to Iran and are in Esfahan and search for a place to smoke shisha with your girlfriend, leave a personal message and I will reveal the location.
- Three things that come from Russia to Iran are samovar (sold in excessive quantities at every market), kalian (smoked at every market as well) and conditionally non-alcoholic (0,1 %) bier “Baltika” (we had it for our New Year Eve. Surprisingly, it tastes quite good).
During eight days we have been to four big cities, in countless mosques, in mountains, on historic spots, spoke to many people on the streets, drunk liters of tea and almost no alcohol, smoke shisha and internalized the culture (a little bit). Eight days were definitely not enough, and if we have had more, we would be definitely not bored. So much to see, so much to feel and get to know. One day we will come back and travel to the South and North coast and to the desert.